KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — After a strong first half and a 17-point lead, N.C. State went into the locker room at halftime at Tennessee on Wednesday night feeling good.
Make that really good, senior Jordan Vandenberg said.
The Wolfpack felt even better after its 65-58 road win over the Volunteers at Thompson-Boling Arena.
The Vols made a run, as coach Mark Gottfried told his N.C. State team they would, but the Wolfpack (8-2) held off Tennessee in the second half for its first nonconference road win under Gottfried.
Sophomore forward T.J. Warren led N.C. State with 21 points and freshman forward BeeJay Anya added five blocks in the Wolfpacks sixth straight win since an overtime home loss to N.C. Central on Nov. 20.
In N.C. States first road trip of the season, it couldnt close out the game at Cincinnati back on Nov. 12. There was a collective resolve against the Vols, Vandenberg said, that had been missing from the program.
In years past, certain teams would not have a response, Vandenberg said. So it was good to stay together and finish the game.
N.C. State lost its first three nonconference road games under Gottfried and since the 2003-04 season, was 4-15 on the road against opponents from other major conferences.
Vandenberg, who finished with four of the Packs season-high 12 blocks, had two blocks and a dunk for his only two points in a key second-half sequence for the Pack.
He blocked Tennessee forward Jarnell Stokes at 5:45 in the second half and then a layup attempt by guard Robert Hubbs III at 4:23. In between, Vandenberg dunked in his only two points of the game, pushing the Packs lead to 52-45.
The way the Wolfpack played in the first half, it looked like it would win easily. The guards were aggressive, the bigs were contributing on both ends and Warren was scoring.
Everybody was executing and making shots, and the young bigs were stepping up, Warren said.
Anya provided an unexpected boost off the bench. The 6foot-9 freshman, listed at 325 pounds, has been struggling to get into game shape.
He hadnt played more than 15 minutes in a game in the first nine games and had not played at all in three of the past four games.
With Vandenberg, Lennard Freeman and Kyle Washington all in foul trouble, Anya came through with five blocks and a steal in a season-high 24 minutes. He came into the game with six blocks for the season.
Im really proud of him, Vandenberg said. Hes going to contribute more as the year progresses.
Anyas block of Tennessees Jordan McRae with 1.8 seconds left provided the exclamation point to the first half. The Pack led 37-20 and had held the Vols to 7 of 29 from the floor (24.1 percent) and they had missed all nine of their 3-point attempts.
But all of the points off drives in the first half dried up in the second half for N.C. States offense. Instead of Tennessee, it was State that settled for contested outside shots instead of attacking the basket.
The Volunteers cut the Packs lead to 48-43 on a steal and layup by guard Darius Thompson at the 8:30 mark.
The Vols (6-4) missed their first 11 3-pointers of the game but started the comeback in earnest with a pair of 3s by McRae, who finished with 21 points.
But the Vols couldnt get closer than five points in the second half. Warren provided the dagger with a tough baseline floater over guard Josh Richardson at 3:23 to push the Packs lead back to 54-45.
Warren said the ability to win on the road will help the Packs confidence.
It is a big win for our team, we just want to keep getting better, Warren said.
Gottfried downplayed the value of winning on the road and focused on the teams progress, in general, since the Cincinnati trip in the first week of November.
Thats the most important thing for our group right now is to make sure we are improving, Gottfried said.
It shows were getting better. We still have a long ways to go, but its a good step.